New Jerseyans working in health care, nursing homes or other high-risk congregate settings like prisons, will have to be fully vaccinated and boosted starting on January 27th, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Wednesday, eliminating an alternative that allowed those employees to take weekly tests instead.
“We are no longer going to look past those who continue to put their colleagues and perhaps, even more importantly, those who are their responsibility, in danger of COVID,” Murphy said of the policy shift during a tour of a federal testing site in Atlantic County. “That has to stop.”
The governor said he will sign an executive order giving unvaccinated health care workers until January 27th to get their first vaccine dose. They must complete their second dose by February 28th. Workers in congregate living facilities who are unvaccinated have until February 16th to get their first jab and March 30th for the second.
Health care workers are already required to be fully vaccinated under an order by President Joe Biden that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld last week, meaning they must have at least one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the shots made by Pfizer or Moderna. Murphy’s policy will go further, by requiring those health care workers to be boosted, too.
Health care workers who are already vaccinated but not boosted have until February 28th to receive a booster and those in other high-risk settings until March 30th. Moving forward, employees will have three weeks to get their booster once they become eligible. Johnson & Johnson recipients are allowed to seek boosters two months after their first shot, while Moderna and Pfizer must wait six months after their second dose.
“The science tells us it’s no longer good enough to receive your primary series,” Murphy said, adding the fact that only 48% of those eligible for a booster shot in New Jersey have received one is “unacceptable.”
Workers who don’t comply with the new rules will be subject to disciplinary action by their employer and could face termination. Murphy said employees will be able to apply for medical or religious exemptions.
State officials didn’t immediately say how many health care workers are fully vaccinated. But in long-term care facilities, 88% of staff are fully inoculated and 43% are boosted, health department records show.
Murphy first mandated health care workers and employees in congregate facilities to be vaccinated or face weekly testing by September. His newest order comes fresh after his inauguration to a second term and after the state recorded nearly 600,000 COVID-19 cases in the last month — about a quarter of all cases logged since the pandemic began. New cases have dropped to around 8,000 a day, much lower than the 30,000 daily cases at the beginning of the month.
Hospitalizations also rose sharply this month, reaching a high of 6,000 patients but are starting to drop. About 5,000 hospitalizations were reported on Monday, state data shows. During the first peak of the pandemic in April 2020, New Jersey hospitalizations reached a peak of 8,000 hospitalizations.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct dates for the new vaccines rules.